Residents Joanie Balderstone and Rebecca McIntire’s nonprofit, Distributing Dignity, donates new bras and feminine hygiene products to organizations providing services to women in need. The organization has grown rapidly since it’s founding in 2013.
In 2009, Cherry Hill residents Joanie Balderstone and Rebecca McIntire made a delivery of business clothing to New Visions Homeless Day Center in Camden.
They thought they were simply doing a good deed. At the time, neither imagined the trip would change the trajectory of their lives.
“We had collected a bunch of gently used business clothing because they had provided them resources to look for jobs and vocational assistance,” Balderstone said. “We thought if we provided them with this clothing, it would be helpful.”
“When we made the delivery, one of the women thanked us and then said ‘I don’t have a decent bra to wear underneath,’” Balderstone continued.
A few months later in February 2010, the pair held their first Mardi Bra Party, an event where dozens of women donated 80 new bras and thousands of pads and tampons for women in need in Camden.
More than six years later, Balderstone and McIntire are now the driving force behind Distributing Dignity, a nonprofit organization donating bras and feminine hygiene products to dozens of organizations providing services to women in need.
Distributing Dignity was founded in 2013 a few years after the first Mardi Bra party. Balderstone and McIntire recognized there was enough of a demand for an organization to donate bras and feminine hygiene products on a regular basis.
“What we realized was the need was really prolific and the support is out there to try to fill that need,” Balderstone said.
Originally, Balderstone and McIntire operated the nonprofit out of their home. Community members would donate products to the organization. Balderstone and McIntire would then donate the products to the partnering organizations.
Balderstone and McIntire talked to their friends and a few community groups to spread the word about the organization. However, neither of them realized how quickly news about Distributing Dignity would spread. The response the pair got from community members allowed the organization to grow rapidly.
“It really was a huge word-of-mouth campaign,” Balderstone said. “We’ve been very fortunate with community response.”
In the beginning, Balderstone and McIntire mainly focused on local organizations in the South Jersey region, many of which weren’t quite prepared for the number of donations they would receive right away. Because of the large number of donations Distributing Dignity received early on, Balderstone and McIntire were able to send plenty of products to each organization. Balderstone remembers one such reaction from the Camden County Women’s Center after Distributing Dignity was able to donate 50 bras to them.
“(McIntire) called and said ‘We’re going to send a delivery,’” Balderstone said. “She told them how many bras we were going to send and they were blown away.”
In addition to word of mouth, social media allowed the organization to reach audiences beyond South Jersey. As word about Distributing Dignity grew, the number of donations and organizations wanting to partner grew as well.
“Tampons were in our dining room, bras were hanging out in the living room,” McIntire said with a laugh.
“We grew a lot faster than we thought,” McIntire added. “It went from a guest room closet to a guest room, to a dining room and finally to a living room before we realized we needed to get a bigger space.”
Distributing Dignity across the country
Today, Distributing Dignity leases warehouse space in Cherry Hill to store its many donations. The number of organizations Balderstone and McIntire are partnering with has grown exceptionally, with donations shipping to nine states and as far away as California. That number could grow to 12 states by the end of the year.
The organization has also heard from people who want to volunteer in other states. These volunteers sometimes help bridge the gap between Distributing Dignity’s Cherry Hill headquarters and states in other parts of the country.
“We’ll ship them items from our inventory depending on what they need, but we also coordinate if we have people in that area who want to help, we’ll have them coordinate a collection,” McIntire said.
Back at home, Distributing Dignity has about 20 volunteers who spend some time in the warehouse and will organize and box donations for future deliveries. Balderstone said the organization’s warehouse allows volunteers to operate much more efficiently than in the past.
One of the biggest challenges with the growing organization is its capacity to handle donations and send products. With more organizations wanting to partner with Distributing Dignity, Balderstone and McIntire have to constantly balance their regular jobs with work at the nonprofit.
“The demand is really high right now,” McIntire said. “We’re trying to pace ourselves because we’re all-volunteer right now. We can’t do too much at a time, but we’re also focused on being sustainable.”
Distributing Dignity has also received a financial boost through Crowdrise, a website allowing nonprofit organizations to crowd source for donations. Balderstone said the boost in donations helps the organizations afford the warehouse space as well as shipping cost for its products.
Through Oct. 26, the organization is also participating in the Revlon LOVE IS ON challenge, a contest where nonprofit organizations focused on women’s health issues try to collect donations. Distributing Dignity is hoping to boost its number of donations during the contest.
“Every dollar matters,” Balderstone said. “It’s not going to pay any salaries. It’s not going to pay for any exorbitant things. It’s just really going to pay for product, storage of product and delivery of product.”
Distributing Dignity for years to come
Balderstone and McIntire envision Distributing Dignity growing for years ahead. They continue to hear from potential new partners, volunteers and donors on a regular basis.
“We started with our peer group, church groups and those things,” McIntire said. “Now, we’re growing to universities and even high schools. Some people have daughters who are middle school-aged that are coming in and learning what we do.”
“We just got another request from somebody in Minnesota who needs our help,” Balderstone added. “The help is coming from all over, the donations are coming from all over. I’m still getting emails from people who say they’ve just heard about us.”
Though Distributing Dignity has expanded dramatically, some things haven’t changed. The organization’s main fundraiser remains the Mardi Bra Party Balderstone and McIntire hold each spring.
Though Distributing Dignity has expanded to organizations well outside of South Jersey, it still maintains a number of strong partnerships in the area. McIntire emphasized how Distributing Dignity will always make sure to focus on local organizations, especially in Camden.
“That’s kind of where we got started with our roots,” McIntire said. “There’s a need there, and we said we’ll always continue to support.”
To donate to Distributing Dignity in the Revlon LOVE IS ON challenge, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/donate/event/RevlonChallenge. For more information on Distributing Dignity, visit www.distributingdignity.org.